This Week in Political Science

RETIREMENT. This week the New York Times reported that Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who caucuses with the Democrats, has been speaking with previous contender Linda McMahon, a Republican campaigning for her party’s nomination for Lieberman’s seat, drawing the ire of many establishment Democrats.  Lieberman’s retirement and that of other members of Congress this year raises this question: how does the replacement of incumbents (and particularly moderates) by new members affect the polarization of the parties in Congress?  University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault finds (ungated) that the replacement of moderates by more ideologically extreme members has driven polarization:

As southern Democrats, the bulk of whom were in the middle third of the ideological continuum, died, lost, retired or otherwise vacated their seat, they have been, for the most part, replaced by conservative Republicans. Quite simply, when extremists replaced moderates, the ideological middle disappeared and the parties diverged.

Within the GOP, replacement has also mattered:

Same-party replacements in the Republican Party have polarized the parties more than same-party replacements in the Democratic Party up until the 2002 elections, during which Senators Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Frank Murkowski, Phil Gramm and Bob Smith were all replaced by more moderate Republicans.

REDISTRICTING IN THE COURTS At the moment, there are legal challenges to redistricting plans in 9 states. In a 1995 paper (gated), political scientist Ronald E. Weber examined legal battles over  redistricting and found:

My discussion of the congressional and state legislative redistricting processes in the 1990s shows that the level of litigation activity has expanded and that judicial activism has increased due to the larger number of court-drawn plans adopted when compared to the 1980s. Except for the greater frequency of court-drawn plans, the record shows the incredible difficulty for plaintiffs to challenge successfully a state plan.

Perhaps because courts so rarely overturn state redistricting plans, opposition parties  like the  Democratic Party in Ohio have tried to circumvent the judiciary, fighting successfully for the new congressional map to be put to vote as a  referendum on the 2012 ballot.

HORSE RACE ELECTION COVERAGE Many people rail at election media coverage, in particular because it so frequently features stories about the “horse race.”  But does this kind of coverage actually affect the race?  Political scientist Diana Mutz looked whether horse race media coverage drives donations to candidates, focusing on the 1988 presidential primary (ungated). She found that donors did take cues from the media:

To the extent that contributors are motivated by strategic considerations, mass media portrayals of the opinions of others may influence the decisions of potential contributors. Just as this consideration is sometimes important to people’s vote choices, it is also important in determining the flow of money into campaigns.

Mutz concludes:

In this sense the political reasoning observed in this study is of a highly evolved nature; horse race coverage may be a shallow and lazy form of election coverage, but primary activists are anything but lazy in the uses they make of it.

One Response to This Week in Political Science

  1. Procopius October 29, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    Well, one problem we don’t have to worry about. Lieberman isn’t a moderate, so he’s likely to be replaced by a moderate rather than an extremist. If Lieberman has any political position, it’s rather to the right of Lord North. He seems to be motivated less by a political ideology than by petty resentment at the Democratic Party, and simple greed for the money he will be getting from Connecticut’s insurance companies.